This college dropout sold his first company for six figures at 21. Here's his recipe for success
When Kevin Kim dropped out of college at 21 to become an entrepreneur, it seemed like a huge gamble.
"My mum cried a little," Kim, now 33, said with a laugh.
But his confidence was not unfounded. Kim had just sold his first company — which he started when he was just 18 — for "six figures."
That was no small feat, given that his starting capital was just $2,000, which Kim said he saved up from doing part-time jobs.
His e-commerce company imported streetwear from South Korea and sold it all over North America, he told CNBC Make It.
Achieving product-market fit is really hard, it takes years. You need to ask yourself ... Do I really like this industry? Can I see myself build around this for 10 years?Kevin KimCo-founder and CEO, Stadium Live
"After I sold my first company, it was easy to decide," said Kim, who emigrated from South Korea to Canada when he was 11.
"There was no vision or alignment … I was a civil engineering undergrad but I wanted to create services and products for different audiences."
Kim then spent almost 10 years building digital products for other startups and companies, before venturing out on his own in 2020 with Stadium Live — a metaverse app for sports fans.
The app allows users to customize their own avatars, buy digital collectibles, hang out with other fans in virtual rooms, take part in interactive sports livestreams or play mini games.
The startup has raised $13 million so far, including a Series A funding led by NBA star Kevin Durant's 35 Ventures, World Cup champion Blaise Matuidi's Origins Fund and Dapper Labs Ventures.
CNBC Make It finds out Kim's three tips for running a successful company.
1. Founder-market fit
It's common for entrepreneurs to attribute the success of their startups to finding a good product-market fit.
But for Kim, what he calls "founder-market fit" is even more important. It means a founder is really passionate about what he's building.
"Achieving product-market fit is really hard, it takes years. You need to ask yourself, do I really like what I'm doing? Do I really like this industry? Can I see myself build around this for 10 years?"
They're able to go into it and make money, but they burned out faster than other founders who have founder-market fit.Kevin KimCo-founder and CEO, Stadium Live
Kim said he knew he always wanted to build products around the four areas that speak to him — sports, gaming, music and fashion.
"I know founders who, for example, [launched] a SAS startup with accounting, but they were not even into accounting," Kim said.
"They're able to go into it and make money, but they burned out faster than other founders who have founder-market fit."
2. Closing a gap
Nevertheless, product-market fit is still crucial to a business' success, said Kim.
"Without product-market fit, you wouldn't be able to survive as a business due to there being no real demand or supply between your product and the audience."
Meeting the needs of consumers has enabled the success of his companies. In fact, Kim started his first e-commerce business because he wanted to find clothes that fit his "style and sizing."
"I could never do that with brands in the U.S. and Canada at the time," he said.
"It really started as a personal hobby and need … I quickly saw that other people had the same need."
That also applied to Stadium Live — Kim noticed that the sports industry was focused on building products for a limited demographic of "millennial or older fans."
"I could see they were all focusing on one-dimensional content and building towards betting. This was an interesting opportunity for me to take a look at the next generation of fans and think 'who's building for these fans?'" he told CNBC Make It.
"They didn't have money yet, they consumed sports in a completely different way, they wanted to interact with others within a community and they wanted something new."
Kim's idea seems to have paid off — Stadium Live amassed over 750,000 users who "spend over an hour a day on the platform," said the company.
Stadium Live is also valued at around $32 million, Kim told CNBC Make It.
3. Don't overlook company culture
According to Kim, setting a strong vision and set of values for your team is "absolutely critical."
"Why should talented people join your company and grow with you? This question cannot be answered by just the product that you are building, but also the company and culture you're building," he added.
The importance of company culture cannot be underestimated, Kim stressed, if one wants to build an "iconic long-term company."
I saw this first hand when I was a fifth employee and saw the company grow to 50. The culture morphs itself every time a company doubles in size.Kevin KimCo-founder and CEO, Stadium Live
"I saw this first hand when I was a fifth employee and saw the company grow to 50. The culture morphs itself every time a company doubles in size," he added.
"So that's something that you should set and think about very early on. Because as soon as you get to 10 people — by that time, it's almost too late."
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